Why France Isn’t Investigating Skechers, Inditex, Uniqlo and SMCP Anymore

A group of human rights organizations has filed a new complaint as civil parties to request a French judicial investigation into four fashion retailers over allegations that they profited from “crimes against humanity” by using forced Uyghur labor in China.

Sherpa, the Collectif Ethique sur l’étiquette, the Uyghur Institute of Europe and a Uyghur woman made the announcement Wednesday after France’s antiterrorism prosecutor’s office revealed that it was no longer looking into whether Zara owner Inditex, Sandro and Maje owner SMCP, Skechers and Uniqlo were potentially subcontracting with suppliers in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where Uyghurs are the dominant ethnic group, or marketing goods derived from cotton harvested through their coercion.

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The office said that it lacked “jurisdiction to prosecute the facts contained in the complaint,” referring to the organizations’ original April 2021 lawsuit in which they accused the clothing and footwear purveyors of “knowingly taking advantage in their value chain of the workforce in a region where crimes against humanity are being perpetrated.”

All the retailers rejected the allegations at the time, though they said they would cooperate with investigators.

Of the latest development, Inditex said it has “publicly commented on several occasions that the accusations made in the complaint were unfounded,” a spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. “The company has rigorous traceability controls to ensure the provenance of its products and a zero-tolerance policy towards any kind of forced labor.”

Skechers declined to provide a comment, while Uniqlo parent Fast Retailing and SMCP did not respond to emails seeking a statement.

“Our organizations regret this change of position of the prosecutor’s office, two years after they had decided to open an investigation on this specific legal ground,” Sherpa, the Collectif Ethique sur l’étiquette, the Uyghur Institute of Europe and the Uyghur woman said.

Noting that the new complaint is based on the “offense of concealment” of crimes against humanity, genocide, aggravated bondage and human trafficking in an organized gang, they said that their goal is to “shed light” on the responsibilities of fashion multinationals that could be benefiting from Uyghur exploitation. With 20 percent of the world’s cotton production originating from Xinjiang, one in five cotton garments could be tainted with Uyghur exploitation, the organizations said. Companies that use cotton from the region or employ subcontractors involved in forced labor transfers therefore “cannot ignore that their products could be made with Uyghur forced labor.”

“As the repression of Uyghurs persists, and in the face of the weak responses of third States, the courts could play a key part in shedding light on the responsibility of economic actors who could profit from the genocide,” they added.

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